Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 2010 Red Sox Staff

After taking a look at what the projections show for the lineup, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some very basic projections for the rotation. As with the hitting projections I'm using 3 year weighted means (2010 projection = (2007 stats + 2*2008 stats + 3* 2009 stats)/6). A couple minor differences though. For starting pitchers who split time between the majors and minors due to inexperience or performance, I've added the minor league innings pitched numbers to the season totals. All other stats are only from the majors. I've also used FIP, fielding independent pitching, in place of ERA. FIP is calculated based on the number of strikeouts, walks, and home runs a pitcher gives up and is one of the many useful statistics available from Fangraphs. It is more stable than ERA and I believe it is a better predictor of future performance. Without further ado, your 2010 Red Sox pitching staff..

SP1 Lester 8.34 3.09 2.80 0.88 1.28 3.66 197.4
SP2 Beckett 8.63 2.05 4.31 0.97 1.18 3.41 197.7
SP3 Lackey 7.13 2.28 3.14 1.03 1.25 3.97 179.9
SP4 Buchholz 7.63 4.04 1.90 1.07 1.45 4.41 155.0
SP5 Matsuzaka 8.33 4.55 1.87 1.16 1.60 4.59 121.3
Swing Wakefield 5.31 3.24 1.66 1.00 1.34 4.68 156.5

CL Papelbon 10.52 2.32 5.73 0.63 1.02 2.60 66.8
SU Bard 11.49 4.01 2.86 0.91 1.28 3.38 49.3
RP Delcarmen 7.63 4.28 1.90 0.72 1.36 4.06 61.9
RP Ramirez 7.59 3.88 1.99 0.71 1.34 3.88 66.2
RP Okajima 8.18 3.03 2.75 1.01 1.18 3.86 62.7

Replacement - - - - - 5.50 143.3

I've used what I think will be the opening day roster, although all the innings were not accounted for. In order to make sure the Sox have enough innings, and to factor in the performance cost of fill in players, I've added in about 140 innings of 5.25 ERA. The aggregate numbers for the pitching staff are pretty impressive, and are better across the board than the 2009 staff:

2009 Actual 7.71 3.32 2.32 - - 4.35 1436.67
2010 Projected 7.92 3.18 2.81 0.95 1.31 4.09 1458.0

Standard ERA was used for the actual 2009 stats however, making the 2009 staff seem worse than it really was, as the Red Sox had one of the worst defensive teams in the majors last year. The lineup reshuffling should greatly improve the defense though. Also, as you can see, the walk and strikeout rates are projected to be slightly better. Without much context, these numbers are hard to gauge.

2009 AL Ranks 2 7 1 7
2010 Proj. AL Ranks 1 3 1 2

The 2010 projected AL rankings are where my 2010 projections would rank relative to the 2009 statistics. As you can see, the 2009 Red Sox pitching staff was a great strikeout staff and the 2010 staff is projected to be even better. Based on FIP, the Red Sox should allow 663 earned runs. Assuming that they give up a proportion of earned runs : runs similar to 2009 AL averages, the staff would give up a total of 716 runs.

Based on my admittedly rosy lineup analysis of 926 runs scored, that would make the Red Sox a 101 win team, using the Pythagorean wins formula created by Bill James. With the more conservative estimate of having the Red Sox match last year's offensive production (872 runs), that would still make the Red Sox an expected 97 win team. I doubt that even this information would get Dan Shaughnessy to stop writing about this ridiculous "bridge" year though.

The 2010 Red Sox lineup

With the signings of John Lackey and Mike Cameron, it seems likely that the Red Sox are done with their major moves this winter, barring a blockbuster deal with the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez. While I'm not a huge fan of the Lackey signing (something I'll get into at a later date), I thought I'd take a look at the projected numbers for the Red Sox. These are EXTREMELY simplistic projections, simply using three year weighted means (2010 projection = (2007 stats + 2*2008 stats + 3* 2009 stats)/6).

A bit about my lineup, and the assumptions I used, before I did into the numbers. For full time players I simply used their weighted means for average, on base percentage, and slugging for the table below. For positions that I expect to be shared I used a baseline of 550 at bats for a position total and weighted overall stats as necessary. To keep things relatively simple, I didn't include players like Lowrie, whose playing time is uncertain for 2010. The positions with multiple players are: 1B (Kotchman 450 AB, Martinez 100 AB), RF (Drew 450 AB, Hermida 100 AB), LF (Cameron 450 AB, Hermida 100 AB), and C (Martinez 450 AB, Varitek 100 AB). With those playing time splits, I give to you the offense of the 2010 Red Sox:

Youkilis 3B 0.305 0.402 0.539 0.941
Drew/Hermida RF 0.275 0.385 0.488 0.873
Ortiz DH 0.262 0.363 0.504 0.867
Pedroia 2B 0.310 0.374 0.462 0.836
Martinez/Varitek C 0.281 0.357 0.435 0.792
Cameron/Hermida LF 0.249 0.337 0.449 0.787
Ellsbury CF 0.303 0.355 0.424 0.779
Kotchman/Martinez 1B 0.278 0.345 0.413 0.758
Scutaro SS 0.273 0.359 0.383 0.742

Projected 2010
0.282 0.364 0.455 0.819
Actual 2009
0.270 0.352 0.454 0.806

As you can see, the projected 2010 offense should actually be slightly better than the 2009 offense. Of course, these estimates are likely a little high. If I could guarantee that Papi puts up an .870 OPS I'd jump at the chance. I imagine Theo would too. I also haven't included any of the marginal players that a team always plays during days off or minor injuries. Jed Lowrie would substantially weigh down a team OPS with his career .685 OPS.

According to the Baseball Musings lineup calculator, the lineup above would score 5.718 runs per game. It isn't quite right to simply lump the players together into one, but for our purposes it is good enough. A team that scores 5.718 runs per game would score 926 on the season. Interestingly, according to my very simplistic model, the offense with Kotchman would be better than it would be with Beltre, thanks to Beltre's extremely poor showing in 2009. That doesn't factor in defense though. Although this off season is being presented as a lateral move at best with regard to scoring runs, I think the fact that the Red Sox shortstops were so unbelievably bad last year makes it possible to match the offensive production even with the loss of Bay.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brief note regarding a Halladay trade

According to Jon Heyman, of SI, the Red Sox are now not willing to offer either Casey Kelly or Clay Buchholz for Roy Halladay. This would effectively take them out of the Halladay sweepstakes, especially if the Yankees are willing to give up Jesus Montero, their slugging "catcher" prospect. As I argued before, I think it is more valuable to hang on to the young players, but this is a pretty stunning drop in value from July of last year.

Baseball Prospectus has an interesting take on the Halladay situation, and game theory in general, from the Blue Jays perspective. Essentially, Halladay is worthless to the Blue Jays - they're not going anywhere in 2010 and his salary outpaces the revenues he brings in. Given that he's worthless, the Jays ought to take the best offer they can get for him, no matter what it is, and even if it seems "unfair", they're still in a better position than they were keeping him. Of course, our brains just don't work that way. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it at least once more, when an underwhelming package of prospects nets Halladay - Ricciardi really hurt the organization by not making a deal last July.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Not that it is a major surprise...

but Casey Kelly has decided to give up playing shortstop, instead focusing on pitching. Amalie Benjamin has a much more detailed (and better) write up than I can provide. This is a nice move for the Sox and for Kelly. At first playing shortstop was a nice way to limit the innings for a young arm, but Kelly needs to start building up endurance to be a successful major league pitcher.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why the Scutaro signing isn't so bad after all...

I've come around a little bit on the Scutaro signing for a variety of reasons.
1. The Red Sox shortstops were so horrendous last year that there is a massive amount of room for improvement on a 95 win team.
2. The money isn't exorbitant, and equally important, the contract is short.
3. Despite Scutaro being a Type A free agent, the Red Sox gained picks overall and actually moved up in the first round, barring a major move in free agency by the Braves.

I knew the Red Sox were a disaster at shortstop, but I didn't realize just how bad the overall numbers were until the Globe showed the composite numbers. Red Sox shortstops put up an unbelievably bad line, .235/.297/.358, good for 26th, 25th, and 20th for major league teams at the position. Using a nifty tool from Baseball Musings we can calculate the expected runs scored for the Red Sox. For simplicity's sake, I'm using 2009 stats and the lineup from the end of the season when healthy - V-Mart at catcher, Bay still in left field, and Lowell at 3B, as well as the aggregate shortstop output. This lineup is predicted to score 5.791 runs per game, or a total 938 runs. This is well above the actual runs scored thanks to injuries and days off, but for comparative purposes is useful. Now, what happens if Scutaro were in the lineup instead?

Again, this isn't a prediction for next year, but let's say that Scutaro put up his rather underwhelming current career averages (.265/.337/.384) instead of the aggregate numbers the Red Sox shortstops put up. This would results in a lineup that scores 5.901 runs per game for a total of 956 runs, a difference of 18 runs. Despite the fact that Scutaro has been well below average offensively for his career, his addition to the Red Sox at shortstop would still be a two win improvement offensively. Normally, two win improvements aren't that easy to come by. Using Scutaro's actual 2009 numbers (.282/.379/.407) would result in a 36 run improvement in the offense, or 3.5 wins. As a point of comparison, this improvement is on par with replacing Kevin Youkilis with by far and away the best hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols.

As far as the numbers go, the value of a win depends on who you want to believe and where your team is in the standings. According to revenue work done by a variety of folks, the more a single win makes a difference in your playoff odds, the more valuable they are. For a team like the Pirates, an additional win or five isn't going to make a difference in terms of revenues. This holds true on the high side too - as a playoff spot becomes more and more likely, the value of one additional win decreases. Circa 2007 a 90 win team would earn $3.5 million for one additional win, the highest observed. Fangraphs took a look at things from the free agent market perspective, and showed that for 2008 a marginal win cost $4.5 million. Either way, a 3.5 win improvement is well worth the $6 million / year the Red Sox have committed to Scutaro.

Also, because the contract can be a two year deal it is hard for the Red Sox to have lots of dead money in the deal. If Scutaro flops or Lowrie hits like Theo thinks he can, then the Sox have the financial resources to float a $6 million dollar (utility) man. Thanks to the short contract length the Sox will never be in a Julio Lugo or Edgar Renteria situation, desperately looking to move a player, even if they have to pay half of the remaining contract to do so.

Finally, the Scutaro signing doesn't hurt the farm system very much. Thanks to Billy Wagner signing with the Braves, the Red Sox get the Braves 1st round pick (19th overall) as well as a sandwich round pick.

A sandwich round aside - if you're familiar with it already you can skip the italics. The sandwich round is a bit of an oddity - it exists between the first and second rounds, and can be of varying sizes depending on the number of free agents that sign with other teams. It might be easiest to think of it as the 1.5 round of the draft.

In exchange for Scutaro, the Blue Jays get the Red Sox first round pick (29th overall), so with this exchange they've actually moved up in the standings AND gained a pick. To top it all off, if the Red Sox sign another Type A free agent, John Lackey or Matt Holliday for example, the Red Sox would give up their 2nd round pick and not the compensatory pick from the Braves. However, they could gain another team's 1st round pick as compensation for Jason Bay, as well as another sandwich round pick. If everything breaks just right for the draft, for example, if Bay signs with the Mariners, the Sox could swap Scutaro and Holliday into their lineup in exchange for their first and second round draft picks, while gaining Atlanta and Seattle's first round pick and two sandwich round picks. Those later draft picks are great opportunities to snag players who fall because of signability concerns or lower upside arms that can move quickly through the system. For example, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, two of the three prospects in the Victor Martinez deal, were sandwich round picks in 2007 and 2008.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to create a winning organization

1. Hire people who can evaluate players independently.
2. Hire people with the backbone to stand up for those opinions.

In many of the rumored iterations of the Johan Santana deal, Jon Lester was included. At this point in his career Lester was more promise than pitcher. Despite an 11-2 record over two seasons, Lester had a 4.68 ERA and was only striking out a few more batters than he walked. Despite the unimpressive numbers, Lester did have flashes of brilliance, including his start to finish a sweep of the World Series, less than a year after returning from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

From Buster Olney's Blog:
"In the midst of Boston's trade discussions about Santana, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell all but threw his body in front of young left-hander Jon Lester, who had pitched a total of 144.1 innings in the big leagues at that point. Farrell argued that the Red Sox should keep Lester and not trade him for Santana, stating that the lefty could wind up winning more games than Santana over the course of Santana's contract. And Farrell has looked pretty smart so far: Lester has won 31 games over the past two seasons, Santana 29."

Without his time in the Cleveland Indians front office as the director of player development, Farrell might not have had the experience to identify the talent or the guts to strongly voice his opinion. Since not being included in the deal Lester has excelled, throwing 413.2 innings of 3.31 ERA baseball in the brutal AL East, including a spectacular year in 2009 where he struck out the second most batters per nine innings in the AL, only behind Justin Verlander. Lester also cost $38.5 million less than Santana. Also, it gives Sox fans one more reason to be happy that Farrell stayed with the Sox, instead of opting for the Cleveland manager's job in October.

Middle Infield Options

With Pedroia open to shifting to shortstop, the Red Sox now have a lot more options to fill the hole at middle infield. The player that is most discussed has been Marco Scutaro. Scutaro easily had the best year of his career last year, posting a .282/.379/.409 while playing above average defense at shortstop. A long time utility player finally making good on his opportunity to start is a good story, but everything about him seems to point to a disastrous free agent signing. We're talking about a 33 year old player who just posted a career high in slugging and on base percentage, but have never cracked an .800 OPS. We're also talking about a player who walked as much as Kevin Youkilis last year, despite not having any power to speak of. Rob Neyer argues that Scutaro has shown potential to be this kind of player in the minor leagues, but I am unconvinced. I think his 2600 at bats in the major leagues are much more informative than looking back on two seasons of minor league numbers that are now 10 years old. The cherry on top is that Scutaro is also a Type A free agent, so he would cost the Red Sox their first round pick. That is mitigated if they sign more than one type A free agent (Holliday? Lackey?), but giving up much of anything for a glorified utility player would be a terrible blunder.

One option at second base would be Placido Polanco. In a lot of ways he is similar to Scutaro. He hits for a solid average, draws a few walks (although not as many as Scutaro did last year), and hits for a tiny bit of power. The difference between Polanco and Scutaro is that because Scutaro plays shortstop his price will be inflated substantially, and Polanco was not offered arbitration by the Tigers, so he would not cost a draft pick. While Polanco might be an all right stop gap measure, I am not sure that he would improve the Red Sox very much.
Edit: Polanco has signed with the Phillies for 3 years and $18 million to play third base. His bat is a little bit light to play there, although he should still be an upgrade over Pedro Feliz. Plus, with Utley, Rollins, and Howard in that infield they can handle a bit less than average production from third.

I think the most attractive option at second base is Orlando Hudson. Hudson is two years younger than Scutaro and could be relatively cheap coming off a "down" year in Los Angeles, where Torre benched him down the stretch and in the playoffs in favor of Ronnie Belliard. Despite having his worst offensive year of the last four, Hudson still put up a .774 OPS, just slightly worse than Scutaro's career year. Hudson would also benefit from Fenway, turning five to seven fly outs into doubles or home runs. Because he isn't a home run hitter, the triangle in right center would not harm him either. Assuming the Red Sox aren't able to pick up a middle infielder through a trade, Hudson seems like the obvious, and cheaper, option to me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Moving right along the defensive spectrum

There have been some rumblings about moving Pedroia back to shortstop. This would be a bit unusual, as players typically move to easier positions as they age. Bill James came up with the idea of the defensive spectrum in his 1982 Baseball Abstract, and it works something like this:
Essentially the idea is that players on the left side of the spectrum require the least amount of defensive ability, but are expected to carry the offense. You could throw DH on there on the left side, if you'd like. Craig Biggio had perhaps the most interesting movement across the spectrum, starting at catcher, moving to second base, then center field and left field, before returning to second base.

Pedroia is an above average second baseman (UZR/150 10.6 in 2009 and 10.5 in 2008) and the cost to shift from second base to shortstop is considered to be somewhere around 10 runs, so the numbers indicate he could be an average defensive shortstop. Offensively, a replacement level shortstop is about 7 runs worse than the replacement level second basemen, so this wouldn't change Pedroia's overall value to the team, but would give them more flexibility in the free agent or trade market. Pedroia played shortstop at Arizona State (bumping Ian Kinsler from the starting lineup, who later transferred to Missouri), so shortstop isn't something completely new. Pedroia even played shortstop throughout the minors, making more appearances there than at 2B in 2006, his last year at AAA. Last year Alexei Ramirez shifted from second base to shortstop and his UZR/150 improved from -10.6 to 2.4. Shortstop was Alexei's natural position and he had basically be thrown in at second base in 2008, so it isn't a perfect comparison.

The one knock against this move is that Pedroia was moved off of short for a reason. Coming up through the minors his arm strength was questionable for the position, especially when making throws from the hole. However, his minor league defensive error totals are spectacular (only 7, as Gammons points out), so if arm strength isn't an issue it could be a nice move for the Sox. Another important point Gammons makes is that this would likely be a short term move, as Jose Iglesias, the 19 year old Cuban shortstop, is supposed to be a spectacular defender.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Red Sox and Roy Halladay

According to Mark Feisand and Bill Madden the Red Sox are making a big push for Roy Halladay. While they don't have any details about the package it would take to get Halladay, a scout who spoke with Buster Olney said he expected the Blue Jays to only get one star prospect and one solid prospect. At this point, I'm honestly not sure Halladay is worth it. There is no doubt in my mind that he's a spectacular pitcher, one of the best in the American League every year. But he also only has one year remaining on his contract and has a salary of $15.4 million next year. I guess it would all depend on the cost and whether or not you think you could sign Halladay to an extension at about $15 per year, where he'd continue to be a very slight bargain. Feisand and Madden expect something similar to a deal centered around Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly. Five years of Buchholz and six of Kelly seems awfully steep for one year of Halladay.

This is something that could move fairly quickly. The Blue Jays GM, Alex Anthopoulus, is hoping to get something done before the annual meetings December 7th. What do you guys think - is Halladay worth Buchholz and Kelly?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Arizona Fall League Run Down

SoxProspects recently posted an overview of the Red Sox players in the Arizona Fall League, which just finished up. Both Luis Exposito, the catching prospect who could conceivably take over for Victor Martinez in 2011, and Ryan Kalish, one of the many centerfield prospects the Red Sox have, hit very well. Jose Iglesias, the 19 year old Cuban shortstop who is supposed to be an incredible fielder was all right with the bat and Casey Kelly was pretty terrible batting. Hopefully this will lead to him being a full time pitcher now. None of the four pitching prospects in the AFL are particularly interesting, as most are much older with lower ceilings.

Thanks to Andrew for sending me a link to this article and the updated Rule 5 information.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting Nothing for Something

Edit: The folks at SoxProspects have revised their list of players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft, based on a minor shift in the rules. Navarro (along with several other Red Sox players) is now longer eligible, so he won't need to be on the 40 man roster. Enjoy the now mostly irrelevant write up on Navarro or consider it a preview of the shortstop state of the system.

As a follow up to the post on Robert Manuel, I thought I would take a look at the Red Sox prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. This is not a definitive list, as to the best of my knowledge the Sox can still move players on and off the 40 man roster to address eligible players. In order to be eligible to be drafted a player must not be on the 40 man roster and must either: spent 4 years in the minors if signed at 18 or older or have spent 5 years in the minors if signed younger than 18. The drafting team pays $40,000 to the team who initially had the prospect's rights. In order for the drafting team to keep the prospect, the player must remain on the major league (25 man) roster for the entire season. If the player is removed from the 25 man roster, then the drafting team must offer the player back to the original team for $20,000.

Most rule 5 draftees don't amount to anything, and many are returned to their original teams before the end of spring training. There are some notable exceptions: Johan Santana is easily the best player drafted in the last 10 years, although the Marlins struck gold with Dan Uggla as well. Because of the rules and requirements associated with the draft, many teams don't draft anyone. Last year no one from the Red Sox system was drafted, and the Red Sox drafted Miguel Gonzalez, who spent the entire season the DL rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Looking over the list of eligible players for the draft, the only name that really jumps out at me is Yamaico Navarro, who is the best upper level shortstop prospect in the system. Navarro is a 21 year old shortstop from the Dominican Republic; because he is eligible for the draft at such a young age he must have been a 16 year old signing for the Red Sox. His performances in the minor leagues have been uneven. In several seasons he has excelled at one level (>.900 OPS), only to struggle at a higher level (<.600 OPS). In fact, his last 5 year/league splits have either been in the .500s or .900s. When hitting well, Navarro does a bit of everything. At his best moments he's posted a slugging percentage over .500, which is very impressive for a shortstop. Even when he doesn't hit well, Navarro has shown a good batting eye. According to SoxProspects, Navarro is a good fielder and is likely able to stick at shortstop.

Because of his struggles at AA I wouldn't expect him to be picked, but thanks to the open spots on the Red Sox roster, it simply isn't worth the risk. Because Navarro is young and and a promising all around shortstop, it is conceivable a team would pick him in hopes of stashing him on the major league roster for a year, then send him down to the minors for more seasoning after 2010.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Something for nothing

The Red Sox recently claimed Robert Manuel off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners had to expose Manuel to waivers - it isn't clear whether they were moving him off of their 40 man roster, or if he was out of options, and therefore couldn't be moved from the major leagues to the minor leagues without the other teams in baseball having a crack at him.

Don't get me wrong, Manuel isn't anything special. He's a 26 year old relief prospect who I've never heard of before. He's posted excellent strikeout and walk numbers in the minor leagues (339:66 career), including a 49:16 strikeout to walk ratio in AAA this year. Generally speaking, 2:1 is all right and 3:1 is really good: Papelbon, for example had about a 3:1 ratio this year in a poor year control-wise for him. In 2008 he had a K:BB ratio of better than 9:1. Strikeout to walk ratio doesn't tell you the whole story (for an excellent example, take a look at Dave Bush's numbers sometime), but Manuel also doesn't give up a ton of hits or homeruns.

At worst, I think the Red Sox just found a 6th or 7th inning guy for free. This could give them the flexibility to deal someone like Manny Delcarmen for an improvement elsewhere. By itself, a move like this won't win a championship, snagging a useful player when the opportunity presents itself is the hallmark of a well run organization. I'm not saying that Manuel is a better baseball player than Jeremy Hermida, but I wouldn't be shocked if Manuel contributes more to the 2010 Red Sox than Hermida.

Note: I just read Peter Gammons' chat on ESPN and he mentions a potential Manny Delcarmen for Cody Ross trade, as Ross is a right handed hitting CF/RF. Ross would be a nice addition as he would give the Sox versatility in the outfield and he destroyed lefties last year.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Upcoming dates

Free agency is about to officially kick off. With that in mind, here are a few dates to be aware of.

Starting at midnight tonight free agents can negotiate with any team. As of right now they can only negotiate with their former team. In a related note, Bay just rejected the 4 year, $60 million deal the Red Sox offered right after the World Series.

December 1st at midnight is the deadline to offer arbitration to players. In a lot of ways, this is really when free agency activity starts. Any team that signs a Type A or B free agent before this date automatically gives the former team compensation. This isn't a big deal for Type B free agents, but for middling type A free agents (e.g. Darren Oliver) you're giving up a first round draft pick. Players have until December 7th to accept or reject the arbitration offers.

Finally, you have the winter meetings December 7th-10th. Although any big trades will likely go down later in the offseason, you never know what can happen when you put all the general managers together. With many teams struggling to make payroll there could be some value to be had.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An interesting note

There are several options for the Red Sox in the outfield, and I've outlined several before. One thing I just noticed is that once you get past the top two outfielders, Bay and Holliday, who are both right handed, nearly all the other options are left handed. Normally I don't worry too much about lineup balance, but signing a left handed hitting free agent would mean that the top 5 outfielders in the Red Sox system (the free agent, Ellsbury, Drew, Hermida, and Reddick) would all be left handed. Carrying 5 left handed outfielders would kill roster flexibility, especially for a team that likes to sit Drew or Ellsbury against tough left handed starters. After Bay and Holliday the next best right handed corner outfielders are Jermaine Dye and Vlad Guerrero, if you're willing to believe he can still play the field and hit at the same time. For comparisons sake, left handed hitters such as Matsui, Damon, and Ankiel are available this offseason.

State of the System: Center Field

As I mentioned in the post on Baseball Prospectus' take on the Sox farm system, the Red Sox have an awful lot of outfield prospects with a chance to stick in center field. I'll take a closer look at three of them here - Ryan Kalish, a 21 year old who just finished up a season at AA and finally Reymond Fuentes, the Red Sox first round draft pick from April. For some thoughts on Westmoreland, see my post on BP's prospect rankings for the Red Sox.

Everywhere I look it seems to pop up that Ryan Kalish's biggest strength is his lack of weaknesses. He makes good contact, plays good defense in centerfield, and has the tools to be a 20/20 player in the majors. Without any outstanding tools there is some downside though. If Kalish fills out too much for centerfield he may end up as a tweener with defense a little too weak for centerfield but a bat that is a little weak for right or left - think David Murphy. Between high A and AA last year Kalish his 18 homeruns and stole 22 bases in 28 attempts. The power was nice to see after a 2008 after Kalish slugged .397 in the hitter friendly California league, although the low slugging could be tied to a lingering wrist injury from 2007. Sox Prospects has him starting the season in AAA, but I could see the organization starting him in AA or AAA as the organization has shown they're willing to promote players directly from AA, although this has been more common for pitching prospects. Even without a major league callup next season the Sox will need to add Kalish to the 40 man roster, otherwise he'll be Rule 5 eligible during the offseason next year. Kalish is playing in the Arizona Fall League right now, and is hitting .306 with one home run and 4 stolen bases, but with only a .387 slugging percentage.

Reymond Fuentes was the Red Sox first round pick in this April's draft. If you've read anything about him you're probably already aware that: 1. He is Carlos Beltran's cousin 2. His workouts were supposed to be amazing. Beyond that there isn't an awful lot to know about Fuentes, an 18 year old high schooler from Puerto Rico. Depending on who you want to believe he's either 5'10" or 6'1", is extremely fast and projects to have good power. Fuentes held his own in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast rookie league, but it will take several years before the Sox really know what to expect from him. Unlike Beltran, even under the rosiest projections Fuentes is not projected to be a 30 home run hitter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Double dose of Red Sox on Baseball Prospectus

We get two articles about the Red Sox today from Baseball Prospectus. Kevin Goldstein's top 11 prospects and an interview with Ryan Kalish.

Here is his list of the top 11 players in the Red Sox system, although I won't include his full write ups for the players:
Five-Star Prospects
1. Ryan Westmoreland, CF
2. Casey Kelly RHP/SS
Four-Star Prospects
3. Josh Reddick, OF
4. Ryan Kalish, OF
Three-Star Prospects
5. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
6. Jose Iglesias, SS
7. Junichi Tazawa, RHP
8. Michael Bowden, RHP
9. Lars Anderson, 1B
10. Reymond Fuentes, CF
11. Derrik Gibson, 2B/SS

A couple things jump out at me. First, the Red Sox have three players in their top 11 who can play center field and Reddick is a solid defender in right field. Also, Rizzo and Iglesias are superb fielders. There are no guarantees that all of these players will make it to the majors, especially not as center fielders, but the Red Sox are a team that is on the older and unathletic side of thing. That could change within a couple years. Of the 11, most are in the lower levels. Only Reddick, Tazawa, and Bowden are likely to be seen in Boston in 2010, and all have already appeared in the big leagues, albeit with limited success. Finally, Lars Anderson was dropped from first overall in 2008 to ninth in 2009, below fellow first base prospect Anthony Rizzo. According to Goldstein, even the optimistic scouts are no longer predicting stardom for Anderson. 2010 could be a make or break season for him, as a couple down years can quickly turn a prospect who was young for his league into someone who likely should have moved on already.

More Westmoreland and Kelly, who is likely to be switched full time to pitching this year, are a long way off, starting in low A and high A this season, respectively. Kelly is a very polished 20 year old starter with three plus pitches. He is also a shortstop and in order to be signed the Red Sox had to give him guarantees that he'd at least get a shot to make it as an everyday player. Kelly his just over .210 last season split between low A and high A, but dominated both leagues as a pitcher. Because of his advanced approach he could move through the system quickly. Kelly is playing shortstop in the Arizona Fall League and is hitting .240. A good showing in A+ and AA in 2010 would make a spot start in Boston not out of the question next year.

Westmoreland is a 19 year old centerfielder from Rhode Island. Coming into the draft he was considered nearly unsignable, as he had a full scholarship to Vanderbilt. The Red Sox drafted him in the 5th round and signed him with a $2 million bonus. Despite the large bonus, the general consensus was that his affinity for the Red Sox was important and no other team would have been able to sign him. He posted impressive numbers as a 19 year old in the New York Penn League (low A) and scouts rave about his tools. Goldstein compares him favorably to Grady Sizemore, in terms of upside. The one quesiton mark about Westmoreland is his durability. After the draft he needed minor surgery on his shoulder and his 2009 season was shortened by a broken collarbone after running into a wall.

Varitek exercises player option

After the Red Sox declined the $5 million player option for Jason Varitek on November 9th, Varitek picked up his player option last night. The option is for $3 million and includes $2 of incentives for games played, although, with the addition of Victor Martinez, Varitek is unlikely to even meet the 80 games started incentive.

Last year was another disappointing season for Varitek, posting a .703 OPS, which was 23rd out of 40 catchers who made 200 plate appearances. He had a career low in batting average (.209) and tied a career low in OBP (.313). There are a few reasons for hope though. In 2008 Varitek started strong, before posting one of the worst offensive months I've ever seen - an abominable .122/.205/.176 line in June of 2008. In 2009 he was actually quite good before the All Star Break (.826 OPS) and hitting 13 of his 14 home runs before slumping in the second half to a .489 OPS. Perhaps him playing less regularly will help keep his bat and legs fresh, allowing him to be productive later into the season. Of course, the addition of Victor Martinez didn't really help at all in 2009, as he posted his worst monthly OPS in August and September. Interestingly, his OPS declined every single month of the year.

His subpar bat combined with a complete inability to control the running game makes Varitek an odd option for a backup, although as a backup his .700 OPS is much easier to swallow. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'd much rather see the Red Sox turn to Wagner, who at least is a good defender and has some upside.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Another option at left field?

Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs makes an interesting case for a replacement in left field for Jason Bay. One that would be cheaper, just as valuable, and would not require a long term commitment. His new left fielder for the Red Sox? Mike Cameron.

The key question is how much value to you get out of an excellent center fielder if he plays nearly all his games in left field and one half of those games in Fenway Park. Although I would worry about the Red Sox ability to score runs sporting a league average offensive player in left field, Cameron would certainly help the Red Sox defense, which was a brutal 28th in the majors last year. The Mariner's "3 center fielder outfield" (both in terms of defense and hitting ability) led the AL with a .717 mark, which the Red Sox had a .679. For those unfamiliar with the statistic, defensive efficiency looks at the rate at which balls in play (any non-strikeout, non-walk, non-home run outcome) become outs. It isn't adjusted in any way.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Red Sox would net two draft picks (1st round and sandwich round) from having another team sign Jason Bay. Cameron, a type B free agent, would not require the team to forfeit any draft picks. Cameron would also give the Red Sox a tremendous amount of roster flexibility in the outfield and wouldn't require them to carry a true backup center fielder.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

State of the System: First Base

Note: Andrew did all the research for this piece and most of the writing.

First base is a really tricky position for prospects. A lot of the really good prospects start somewhere else, and get moved to first due to defensive limitations, so a minor leaguer that is already at 1B really needs to project to be a middle of the order threat in order to be a top tier prospect. Red Sox fans know that players can develop into middle of the order hitters relatively late, Kevin Youkilis is the prime example, but it is rare.

The two main prospects for the Red Sox are Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo. Coming into 2009, Lars Anderson was one of those rare, top tier 1B prospects. Baseball America pegged him as the #1 prospect for the Sox and spent most of their write-up gushing about his swing, plate discipline, make up, and power potential, thanks to his impressive .316/.426/.536 line in 133 AA at bats in 2008. To say that 2009 was a disappointment for Anderson is an understatement. Staying in AA, he managed a meager .233/.328/.345 line over 447 at bats. The drop-off stemmed from a large decline in batting average on balls in play and isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average). The batting average on balls in play could be bad luck, but combined with the drop off in isolated power it indicates that Anderson was not driving the ball with authority last year. Anderson projects to be an average 1B with the glove, so he really needs to hit to have value. It’s hard to say what happened last season- Anderson didn’t have any injury issues that I am aware of, but next season will be a very important one for him. Anderson isn’t playing any winter ball, so we’ll have to wait until next spring to get another look at him.

While Anderson had an off year, Anthony Rizzo came back strong following chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While Rizzo’s raw offensive numbers weren’t nearly as impressive as Anderson’s were in 2008, Rizzo did hit .295/.371/.420 in high A as a 19 year old, less than a year after his chemotherapy finished. Currently, Rizzo’s best offensive tools are his plate discipline and gap power to all fields. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Rizzo likely has some filling out to do; for comparison Justin Morneau is 6’4” and 235 lbs. Beyond physical maturation, Baseball America believes that when Rizzo learns to pull the ball more he could hit 20+ home runs a season and hit with a good average and great OBP. It’s very hard to project based on A numbers, without even addressing the recovery from cancer and chemotherapy. Needless to say, Rizzo is very hard to project. Between naturally filling out and Lester’s steady improvement in velocity in the 2 years following chemotherapy, you have to wonder what Rizzo will be capable of by the time he’s 22. Rizzo is also one of the best defensive first basemen in the minors, so he can get away with being less of an offensive force, unlike Anderson, although when all is said and done you need to hit to play 1B in the majors. .

So, where does this leave the Sox? If not for Anderson, the logical place for Rizzo next season would be AA. Some people think that Rizzo, by the virtue of being two years younger than Anderson, may have passed him on the organizational depth chart. Because Rizzo has only a half a season at High A I think he’ll start the season there and Anderson will repeat AA Portland. Before Anderson’s disappointing, many were predicting that he would force his way in to the Sox lineup some time in 2010, especially if there were an injury at either corner infield position. Now it looks like Anderson will need one more year in the minors, with Rizzo needing at least two more years. The good news is that the Sox are set at first base with Kevin Youkilis under contract until 2012 (with a 2013 club option) and Casey Kotchman arbitration eligble through 2011 as a backup, so the Sox can afford to wait and see how these two prospects do next season. Of course, with Mike Lowell’s contract expiring after 2010, if Anderson has a big year next year he might be penciled in at 1B for 2011, with Youkilis sliding back to 3B.

Scratch yet another idea

So the Red Sox won't be trading for JJ Hardy, despite my advice. Instead Hardy is headed to Minnesota in exchange for Carlos Gomez. I think Minnesota won this trade, as Hardy is a much better offensive player and they're both exceptional defenders. That said, it does make a lot of sense for both teams - Gomez was clearly the odd man out down the stretch for the Twins this year and shotstop has been a problem for several years. The Brewers needed a starting centerfielder with Mike Cameron slated to leave as a free agent and JJ Hardy was expendable (and expensive) thanks to the emergence of Alcides Escobar. The general consensus is that the Brewers will use the money they've freed up to pursue starting pitching.

I'm not a huge Carlos Gomez fan, as his OBP is preposterously bad (career high is .297) and he doesn't really have any power. The key to making this trade work for the Brewers is that Gomez still has upside, he was the top prospect in the Johan Santana deal after all, will be under team control for an additional 4 years (versus two for Hardy), and will only be 24 next season.

According to Tony Massarotti the Red Sox were interested in Hardy, but the Brewers requested Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard. The Sox counter off of Michael Bowden wasn't enough. The Brewers were between a rock and a hard place with no great centerfielders hitting free agency and the cost of starting pitching, but at least they've addressed one issue with the trade.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Improving the 2010 Red Sox: 1B/3B

Now that I'm done with my exam and my grant proposal I can do the things that are really important, like make wild speculation about the Red Sox.

Although the Red Sox got about average production out of their third basemen and slightly above average production out of their first basemen, neither Youkilis nor Lowell are true mashers. Also, Lowell's defense has declined dramatically since he signed his 3 year, $37.5 million contract, with his UZR/150 dropping to worse than -10. That represents a win that was lost by Lowell's defense over the course of the season. Based on watching him play, Lowell's range to his left has really been limited by his injury. Whether or not he'll recover some of that range with a full offseason of rest and strengthening is unclear.

With this post I'll take a look at 4 free agent options, but won't address the most common name you'll hear floated as a solution - Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is really good (.958 OPS last year), even better when you consider his mammoth home park (1.045 OPS on the road), is only 27, and is under team control until 2011 for $10.35 million for the two seasons COMBINED. Needless to say, his addition would be massive, but expensive for the farm system.

Adrian Beltre just finished up his much maligned five year, $64 million contract with the Mariners. Despite all the negative publicity surrounding it, according to Fangraphs he earned his salary in the first 4 years of the deal. The large ballpark kept his offensive numbers down, but Beltre played spectacular defense throughout the contract. Thanks to injuries (hopefully he's learned to wear a cup at 3B) and a decline in offense, Beltre didn't earn his $12 million salary this year, but because of that he might be willing to sign for relatively cheap. Beltre is also a midrange free agent; similar players were hammered last year by the salary belt tightening across the league. Beltre would likely put up slightly worse offensive numbers than Lowell, but the massive upgrade in defense would represent a nice improvement for the Sox.

Mark DeRosa is another name that you'll likely hear a lot about, although I don't think he fits well with the Red Sox. He's either a spectacular super utility guy, a good second basemen, or a mediocre 3B. Although the Red Sox love flexibility, between his age (35) and the fact that he's coming off surgery for a wrist injury I think the Sox would be wise to pass, unless he signs for a very short term deal.

One name that caught my eye when he was cut was Chad Tracy. Unlike Beltre or DeRosa, signing Tracy wouldn't necessitate a move involving Lowell. In some ways Tracy shares some similarities with Hermida; he put up some eye popping numbers early in his career, including a .914 OPS at age 25 and a three year stretch of .800 OPS between 2005 and 2007. He has also been of limited use since then, posting average defense and below average offense, even without any kind of positional adjustments, in 2008 and 2009. Tracy does play average defense, but is mostly a 1B now. If hte Red Sox feel he could overcome his injury issues and recapture his swing from 2005 to 2007 he could be a very interesting player. I'm not sure how much room the Red Sox have for him though, given their desire to put Victor Martinez at first base semi-regularly. The Red Sox seem to value positional flexibility, and signing him would give Tito have a preposterous number of combinations to fill out 1B and 3B (7, if I'm counting correctly).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jeremy Hermida trade

The Sox just picked up Jeremy Hermida from the Marlins for Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez. Neither prospect the Sox gave up is all that interesting. Jones is a 25 year old lefty reliever who has posted a 3.02 and 4.25 ERA in AAA the last two years. In a brief appearance with the Red Sox last season he was shelled (9.25 ERA). Jones could have some future as a LOOGY as he held lefties to a .210 average in AAA last year, but his home run tendencies (1.17/9 IP) and his poor control (4 BB/9 IP) this year makes him fungible. He did post much better numbers in 2008 (8.96 K/9, 2.12 BB/9). He might be a useful reliever for the Marlins, but his ceiling is a 6th or 7th inning guy.

Jose Alvarez is a 20 year old left handed pitching prospect. He has a very limited pitching track record in the minors, but put up a 1.52 ERA primarily as a starter in A ball last year and a 4.25 ERA as a reliever in high A. It looks like he is being groomed as a starter, but with a tight leash on his innings, although I'm not certain. He was listed as the Red Sox 44th best prospect by Sox Prospects, one spot ahead of Hunter Jones.

This looks like a something for nothing type situation for the Marlins. Given their payroll, and Hermida's looming raise (arbitration eligible after making $2.25 million last year) he was a candidate to be non-tendered. After a spectacular 2007 as a 23 year old (.870 OPS), Hermida has been a massive disappointment posting an OPS of .740 and .729 in 2008 and 2009 respectively. A former top prospect, and still only 25, Hermida is a bit of an offensive lottery ticket, although right now it is hard to see how he'll get regular playing time if the Red Sox sign a left fielder. He could be a fall back option for Theo, although I view him as a likely 4th outfielder for the Sox in 2010. With Drew it pays to have a second tier starter as your 4th outfielder, and the Red Sox are a team with the finances to make that happen. I wouldn't read too much into this trade Hermida is a player that has often been associated with the Red Sox in trade rumors. This may have simply been Theo taking the opportunity to buy low on a very talented, yet underperforming player who will be under team control for an additional two years.
For those that wish to be optimistic, Hermida's woes have largely been due to soft tissue injuries, so there are no chronic injuries to worry about. Also, his walk percentage and fly ball percentages ticked up this year. While it didn't translate into better performance in 2009, it could be a sign of good things to come, especially with a move to a smaller park.

For those who aren't familiar with what is a good K/9, BB/9 etc - perusing Fangraphs is useful. They what is "poor" and "good" for all the stats they graph. It is a great place to start when trying to understand unfamiliar stats.

Here is Theo's take on the trade from Baseball Prospectus Unifiltered, now with hyperlinked goodness (thanks for the link, Andrew).

Scratch that idea

I guess all the media talking heads were right - Bobby Abreu has resigned with the Angels for two years at $18 million. It also includes a $9 million option for 2012 with a $1 million buyout bringing the minimum value of the contract to $19 million. This is about what I had figured Abreu would sign for. Given that the Angels wanted him back and Abreu left money on the table last offseason by playing hardball with the Rays it isn't surprising that they worked something out quickly. Of course, this means he isn't a short term solution for the Red Sox in left field. It will be interesting to see how the front office handles the Bay/Holliday decision or if they even view it as an either/or choice in the first place.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

State of the System: Catcher

Andrew and I will be running through the Red Sox system position by position over the next month or so, highlighting the interesting prospects in the Red Sox system.

The Red Sox have a bit of an odd roster construction right now, with a total of 5 catchers on the 40 man roster. The strengths and weaknesses of Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez are likely familiar to you already. George Kottaras, has some promise, but appears to lack the contact skills to be an average hitter in the majors and Dusty Brown is defensive minded backup who hasn't been able to hit well at AAA. Finally, you have Mark Wagner, the only one of the five who hasn’t appeared in the major leagues yet. Of the three non-regular catchers, Wagner is by far the most interesting.

At 25, Wagner is not an elite prospect. His minor league career has been up at down, with a fairly regular pattern appearing. During his first stint in a league Wagner struggles. Despite being a relatively polished college player from UC Irvine, Wagner only managed a .570 OPS in his first crack at A ball. The following season he excelled in the Sally League, posting a .842 OPS before getting promoted to the Carolina League (high A) where he put up a .520 OPS in 65 at bats. The pattern continued in 2007 when he crushed A+ pitching for the entire season, followed by a disappointing .666 OPS in AA Portland as a 24 year old in 2008. At the end of the season last year there were some doubts as to the viability of Wagner as a major leaguer, but a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, followed by a great season in AA this year (.301/.410/.477) raised his stock substantially. Unsurprisingly, he did struggle in AAA for the second half of the year (.619 OPS), causing the Red Sox to leave him off the roster during September roster expansions. He’s doing his best to erase those doubts with a massive start to winter ball in the Dominican, hitting .346/.455/.615 with 2 home runs in 26 at bats.

Scouting wise, Wagner has a great defensive reputation, an excellent batting eye, and makes solid contact. Wagner’s clear weakness is his lack of power (only 6 HR in 307 AB split between AA and AAA last year); despite this fact, I think his all around skill set makes him a great backup catcher. It wouldn’t shock me if Wagner would be able to out produce Varitek as soon at next year. When taking into account Victor Martinez’ defensive limitations behind the plate, the switch makes even more sense. Given that catchers often develop offensively much later than other position players it wouldn’t be shocking for Wagner to become a second tier starter. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Wagner put up a .280/.350/.400 line next year. While a .750 OPS isn’t going to carry a team, it would have been good for 15th among catchers with 250 AB last year. In the event of an injury to Youkilis or Victor Martinez turning to Wagner might be the best offensive option short term.

Luis Exposito is the other interesting catcher in the Red Sox system. In many ways, Exposito is Wagner’s opposite. Unlike Wagner, Exposito only had one year in junior college before being signed as a draft and follow pick just before the 2006 draft. He is young for his league (appeared in AA at 22, a full two years before Wagner did), is highly projectable, with the potential for 25 home run power, but he can be prone to strikeouts and does not have a great batting eye. In 2009 Exposito held his own in A+ ball, posting a .756 and hit even better during a short stint at AA. Although Exposito put up a .371 OBP in Portland this year, that was inflated by a high batting average. Prior to AA, the highest OBP of Exposito's minor league career was .332. Exposito will open next season at AA and is at least two years away from making an impact at the major league level, but he has the potential to be an all star catcher if he can learn to control the strike zone better.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Improving the 2010 Red Sox: Shortstop

Shortstop has been an issue for the Red Sox for several years. It seems that everyone who writes about the topic is required by law to mention the fact that since trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 the Sox have had a different starting shortstop every single opening day since then. Although Theo has stated that he thinks that Jed Lowrie still could be the shortstop of the future, I think the Sox need to explore other options.

One option would be to hang on to Alex Gonzalez, although a think a $6 million option is a bit steep. UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating - generally considered to be the best defensive metric available. UZR/150 translates a players fielding value to a rate stat, so it can be compared between players with different amount of playing time) supports the idea that Gonzalez is an above average shortstop, but saving 8.3 runs with the glove doesn't make up for the damage he would do to the lineup if he repeated his 63 OPS+. In a lineup with question marks at 3B and DH I don't think the Red Sox can afford to put such a weak bat in the lineup. The free agent market is a bit thin at shortstop, with Marco Scutaro, Miguel Tejada, and Orlando Cabrera. All three players are Type A free agents, however Orlando Cabrera cannot be offered arbitration, so no draft pick would need to be forfeited to sign him. If either Tejada or Scutaro receive arbitration offers I don't think they're worth giving up a potentially valuable draft pick (thanks for the links Andrew). I won't get into any of them too in depth - Tejada bounced back nicely from a poor offensive year in 2008, although his glove is suspect at shortstop. Scutaro is a potentially useful utility infielder, but betting on a 33 year old coming off a career year is not a good way to run a team - just ask the Angels about Gary Matthews Jr. sometime. The time to sign Orlando Cabrera was probably 2004; after signing the 4 year, $32 million contract with the Angels he went on to provide $53.2 million worth of value, out earning his salary every single year. However, in 2009 he was only 0.7 wins above replacement and was below average offensively and defensively. Like Tejada, Cabrera is also 35.

The much more interesting candidates are trade possibilities. The Red Sox are looking to get younger and more athletic, and you just don't see players hit free agency before 30 very often. JJ Hardy, Stephen Drew, and Yunel Escobar have all been mentioned as potential trade targets. Below are their statistics from 2009, as well as mean statistics for 2007-2009.

2009 Statistics for Trade Candidates

Stephen Drew 0.261 0.32 0.428 0.748 90 2.8
Yunel Escobar 0.299 0.377 0.436 0.812 115 -2.3
JJ Hardy 0.229 0.302 0.357 0.659 74 6.1

2007-2009 Means for Trade Candidates

Stephen Drew 0.263 0.322 0.433 0.756 91 -6.3
Yunel Escobar 0.304 0.376 0.429 0.805 112 -0.5
JJ Hardy 0.263 0.323 0.433 0.755 96 9.9

JJ Hardy is expendable in Milwaukee now that Alcides Escobar is the starting shortstop. After a very good 2007 and 2008, Hardy fell apart, posting a .659 OPS. Hardy is also an excellent fielder. Thanks to a demotion for 2 weeks this summer, Hardy is now slated to be a free agent after the 2011 season, instead of 2010.

Stephen Drew is also a trade candidate for the cost cutting Arizona Diamondbacks, as he is about to enter arbitration for the first time and is under contract for the next three years. Drew recovered from a poor 2007 (.683 OPS) with a spectacular 2008 (.835), leading many to believe he was ready to approach superstar levels. Given the expectations, his 2009 was labeled a disappointment as his offensive production dropped across the board. Still, according to valuations done by Fangraphs, Drew was worth nearly as much in 2009 as 2008, mostly due to much improved defense. If Drew were to combine his offense from 2008 and his defense from 2009 he could be a real force in 2010. Of course, Red Sox fans made these same arguments regarding the left/right splits for Coco Crisp in 2006.

I've seen Yunel Escobar's name pop up a few different places, although I'm not sure how much faith I put in his inclusion here. Escobar is a player who doesn't have many faults - he's a solid contact hitter with a career .301 average. He has a very good eye, especially for a player who strikes out as infrequently as he does. Escobar also plays solid, if unspectacular defense. To top it all off, he is under club control for another 4 years, including the 2010 season at the bargain price of about $400,000. In short, I have no idea why the Braves would want to trade him away. While he lacks the ceiling of a JJ Hardy or a Stephen Drew, Escobar is as good a bet as any to outproduce both of them over the next two years.

Assuming an equal cost, I'd probably rank the three players Escobar, Drew, then Hardy; this is primarily due to service time. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this list is the opposite of what I would expect each player to cost in a trade. However, it is still worth floating a few trade ideas to the Braves in particular to see if they undervalue the unspectacular, yet well rounded Escobar. Any thoughts on players I've overlooked? Who do you think would be the best value for 2010 and beyond?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Improving the 2009 Red Sox: Left Field

Because they're going to be constantly compared this winter, I think it makes sense to discuss Matt Holliday and Jason Bay together. Although many analysts have said that the Red Sox should offer Holliday and Bay the same contract and go with whomever signs first, I think Holliday is clearly the top position player in this years free agent crop. Holliday has several advantages over Bay.

First off, he is 18 months younger than Bay. Although this won't make much of a difference for 2010 or perhaps even 2011 both players will command long term contracts. Obviously if you have to sign Holliday to a 6 year deal, but Bay is available for only 4 that changes things a bit, but I think a west coast team may dangle 5 years for Bay. Also, Jason Bay has the dreaded "old player" skill set. Essentially, folks much smarter than I am have shown that players who rely on walks and power can decline precipitously. There are always exceptions, but the declines can be massive and abrupt. David Ortiz and Travis Hafner are two examples, and writers at USS Mariner have made comparisons between Bay and Richie Sexson just before Richie signed his massive deal 4 year, $50 million deal with the Mariners. Although the parallels aren't perfect, I think Sexson's size had a lot to do with his injury issues and he was coming off a season where he only managed to play 24 games, it is a bit ominous.

Finally, despite the horrendous play that cost the Cardinals a playoff game, Matt Holliday is a much better defender than Bay. With the exception of 2006, Holliday has been an above average left fielder for his entire career and posted 3.2 UZR/150 this season. Bay, on the other hand, is viewed as a well below average outfielder by UZR (-8.7/150, a substantial improvement from 2008's -18.2/150).

To top it all off, if Bay signs with another team the Red Sox will receive a first round draft pick, as he is a type A free agent. While all the other options I've outlined in left field are also type A free agents, depending on who signs Bay the Sox could actually move up in the first round. Because of the reasons I've outlined above, if the Sox want to spend the money on a top shelf left fielder this offseason, Holliday is the obvious choice. Holliday and Bay have produced similar value with the bat, but thanks to the large discrepancy in defense Holliday has "outearned" Bay $53.4 million to $28.5 million, according to Fangraphs valuations of marginal wins.

If the Red Sox do decide that neither of the top outfielders is worth it, I believe that Bobby Abreu is a solid fall back option. Abreu is a free agent after the season, and is coming off an excellent 2009 where he played for a mere $5 million. If you've watched any Angels playoff baseball, there is no doubt this fact has been beaten into your brain already. Abreu overplayed his hand last offseason, turning down a 2 year, $18 million deal with the Rays early in the offseason before settling with the Angels. Most of the concern was due to his horrid defensive play (-25.3 UZR/150) and declining offensive skills. Although Abreu hasn't been a great defender this year a move from right field to left wouldn't hurt, especially in Fenway. Abreu's biggest problem has always been an inability to move back on a ball; with the Green Monster covering him behind, that shouldn't be nearly as much of an issue. Despite being 35, Abreu also stole 30 bases, drove in over 100 runs, nearly 100 runs scored, all to go with a 115 OPS+ . Abreu recently turned down a two year, $16 million contract extension, which was similar to the offer he refused from Tampa Bay last offseason. Should things not work out with the Angels he could be a cheap, short term solution in left field. If the Sox really think they're not going to contend until 2012 or aren't willing to pony up the years for Bay or Holliday (I don't think the money is the issue) this wouldn't be a shocking move. However, Abreu would also require giving up a first round draft pick. For a Holliday type player that seems reasonable, but I'm not sure Theo is willing to give up a draft pick for a short term player.

Another name that has been frequently mentioned is Brad Hawpe. Although the Rockies recently announced that they don't need or want to trade Hawpe, he clearly was the odd man out in the outfield rotation down the stretch and during the playoffs. Hawpe swings a very good bat (.285/.394/.519) which isn't substantially inflated by Coors Field, as he posted very similar numbers on the road (.890 OPS) and at home (.917 OPS). The problem with Hawpe is that the stat heads and the scouts agree - he's an absolute butcher in the field. He posted a -19.5 UZR/150 this season, which, while terrible, was actually a massive improvement from 2008's -46.6. While a move from right field to left field would help, as would the Green Monster, I'm not sure how Hawpe would fit into the Red Sox' plan to hang on to their upcoming talent and try and improve their below average defense. Unlike Abreu, Hawpe would require giving up prospects to acquire.

Overall, I think the Red Sox should take a run at Matt Holliday. Given his age and all around skill set I don't think a 6 year, $90 million contract is out of the question. With Jason Bay, anything beyond a 4 year deal makes me very nervous. A 2011 Red Sox team centered around a marginally effective David Ortiz, a 33 year old Jason Bay, and a 32 year old Kevin Youkilis scares the hell out of me.

Sox set to pick up Wakefield's $4 million option, pending surgery results

According to Rob Bradford at WEEI the Sox are planning on picking up Wakefield's option once back surgery has been completed. Assuming they'll continue to use him as a starter, that will fill the Red Sox rotation with Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, and Wakefield. Although they have options like Bowden in the minors, I'd expect them to add some veteran "lottery ticket" pitchers like last year such as Justin Duchscherer.

At $4 million, Wakefield still continues to be a steal. Even with the down free agent market, average starting pitchers can still pull in $10 million/year if they time their good season right, Kyle Lohse or Vincente Padilla for example. And even with the injuries and ineffectiveness down the stretch, Wakefield remains average overall. His ERA+ (which is a measure of ERA relative to league average ERA - 100 is league average) hasn't dipped below 100 since 2000.

Another big advantage of Wakefield compared to a free agent signing is the time commitment. At some point, Wakefield won't be able to pitch in the big leagues any longer. However, with the 1 year, $4 million dollar options in perpetuity, the Red Sox will never be on the hook for dead money. Although Wakefield hasn't been able to throw 200 innings since 2005, at $4 million I still think he's a steal. This isn't a huge surprise, considering Razy Jazayerli called it the worst contract ever from a player's perspective.